Russian tycoon Rybolovlev arrested for corrupting Monaco officials in billion-dollar art case

  07 November 2018    Read: 942
Russian tycoon Rybolovlev arrested for corrupting Monaco officials in billion-dollar art case

Fertilizer and football magnate Dmitry Rybolovlev has been detained for using money and favors to secure backing from Monaco officials in his bitter high-stakes battle against his former art dealer.

Police searched the $300 million Cote d’Azur penthouse that belongs to Rybolovlev on Tuesday morning, according to Le Monde. The businessman, whose fortune is estimated at $6.8 billion by Forbes, was then taken into custody and charged with corruption and influence peddling.

As the 51-year-old remained behind bars, his football team, AS Monaco, took to the field in the Champions League at the Stade Louis II, several hundred meters away.

Rybolovlev leaves Monaco court following another hearing over his art dispute with Yves Bouvier last month. ©  VALERY HACHE / AFP
Last September, Philippe Narmino, the justice minister of the principality, resigned his post in connection with the case. The net had been closing on the Urals-born billionaire in recent months, as officials declared that he was under investigation for exploiting his “shadowy” network of influence to persuade officials to lure and arrest Yves Bouvier, a Swiss art dealer whom Rybolovlev accuses of defrauding him.

Thick as thieves

The arrest is the latest dramatic chapter in a half-decade marked by spectacular turns of fortune for the Russian, making headlines in the business, art, sports, and politics sections of newspapers worldwide.

A cardiologist by training, Rybolovlev made the bulk of his capital when he was able to cheaply acquire the majority of Uralkali, a major potash concern, following its post-Soviet privatization, and develop it into a multi-billion dollar company in subsequent years.

This is not the first time he has been arrested. Rybolovlev also spent a year in jail in Russia on charges of murdering a business rival in the mid-1990s, before being acquitted due to an 11th-hour confession from another man.

His current predicament began when he became the client of Bouvier, art dealer to the super-rich, in 2003. Over the next decade, the offshore expert linked with multiple separate money laundering and fraud allegations helped the Russian acquire one of the world’s foremost private art collections, spanning from the Renaissance masters to Picasso and Mark Rothko.

The relationship went sour in 2013, when Rybolovlev claimed that he discovered Bouvier’s “betrayal.” The Russian says that instead of taking the art dealer’s two-percent cut, Bouvier had been acting as a secret middleman – discreetly buying artworks on the cheap, and then selling them to the tycoon with a considerable mark-up, while pretending they were still owned by someone else. Rybolovlev says that between $500 million and $1 billion was siphoned off in several dozen deals, and stashed away in untraceable offshore accounts.

It is at this point that the Russian, who had settled in Monaco and bought its local football club before pumping in hundreds of millions of euros to return it to European prominence, decided to leverage his ties with local officials. Text messages found on Narmino’s phone indicate that Rybolovlev offered him and others football tickets, a ski trip in a private helicopter, and other perks as he plotted how to bring down Bouvier.

Eventually, Bouvier was charged with money laundering and fraud by the principality, where he had kept some of his assets. With that battle still going on, Rybolovlev started court proceedings against his elusive target in Hong Kong and Singapore, where they were rejected, and the US, where he also sued auctioneer Sotheby’s, claiming they were fully aware of Bouvier’s schemes.



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